Come on a Cheddar Odyssey!

If you’ve ever wanted to travel to cheddar country and stay in a manor house, get out your duffel. In late September, I’ll be off to Somerset, England for a week-long cheddar tour centered around traditional British cheese and drink. Here’s the best part: four of the six nights, we’ll stay at North Cadbury Court, the manor house belonging to James Montgomery (below), maker of Britain’s premier cheddar.

The house, which has been in the Montgomery family for years, has 21 rooms and was used in the filming of Jane Austen’s Persuasion for Masterpiece Theatre. But wait, there’s more. The land around the house is believed to be the original Camelot. So you can eat cheddar in Camelot — how is that for a pairing?

This odyssey is presented by Cheese Journeys, a company headed by Anna Juhl, a former cheese-shop owner and the matriarch of a U.S. cheese family involved in importing great European cheeses. Juhl’s collaborator is Chris George, formerly of Neal’s Yard Dairy in London. Chris and his wife are expecting this fall…which is why Yours Truly is stepping in.

Cadbury Court Collag

I’m thrilled to be joining this tour as a guest educator, alongside British cheese writer Jenny Linford and Chef Sylvain Jamois. Come join us…


Somerset and London Cheese Tour, September 22-28

  • 6 nights in England (4 nights at North Cadbury Court, 2 in London)
  • Tastings of cheese, wine, cider, wild beer, and whiskey
  • Feasts prepared with local ingredients, including period recipes
  • Visits with cheddar legends James Montgomery, Mary Quicke, and Tom Calver of Westcombe cheddar
  • Day trips to markets, cheese shops, and a local smokery
  • Gastronomic workshops led by makers, sommeliers, and experts in the field

For pricing, a full itinerary, and booking information please visit Cheese Journeys.

Monty's Cheddar


Photo credits: Chris George


New Moon Farm Dinners

Cheese and Honey

Get out your calendars and your table cloths! This summer, I’m teaming up with High Street in Philadelphia for three outdoor dinners with local cheesemakers. We’ve scheduled them on weekends of the new moon (full disclosure: we were calling these “full moon” dinners until I realized that I read the dark circles on my calendar as full moons instead of new moons. Call me astrologically challenged.)

Each dinner will begin with a cheese board presented by the cheesemaker and yours truly. Then there will be a gorgeous family-style meal, prepared by Chef Eli Kulp and the staff at High Street. The idea here is to celebrate regional, seasonal foods on the land where the ingredients were grown and raised. You’ll also get a chance to tour the farm, meet the animals, and maybe even peer into a cheese cave.

Sue Miller with Cows

The dinners ($85) are BYO and will be served family style. We’re asking that you bring your own place setting (plates, cups, silverware, napkins). Bonus for the person with the most creative table setting: High Street will offer a gift certificate and a pound of cheese!

Below are the dates, farms, and links for directions. These are going to be very special nights — I hope you can join us!  Note: each dinner is limited to 25. We expect these to book quickly.

New Moon Dinner Dates

For reservations: 215.625.0988

Friday, June 27: Meadowset Farm & Apiary, Landenberg, PA 7 pm
This beautiful sheep farm located near Longwood Gardens is as picturesque as it gets. Cheesemaker Tom Schaer is a Swiss native who works as a veterinarian by day. He makes two sheep’s milk cheeses, Camel’s Back and Last Straw, and harvests his own honey. For this special dinner, Tom has invited a local winemaker from nearby Va La Vineyards to join the feast. Chef Eli Kulp will prepare a local lamb dinner.

Saturday, July 26: Cherry Grove Farm, (pork) Lawrenceville, NJ 7 pm
Cherry Grove Farm produces a range of rustic raw-milk cheeses at its sustainable dairy in Lawrenceville. If you’re a fan of Buttercup Brie or Herdsman, two of their best known cheeses, you’re in for a glorious evening with cheesemakers Jamie Png and Paul Lawler. Check out the farm store, roam the organic pastures, and visit the “lovely ladies” who supply all the milk. Chef Eli Kulp will prepare a local pork dinner.

Saturday, August 23: Birchrun Hills Farm, (veal) Chester Springs, PA 7 pm
This dinner marks the official kick-off for Sue Miller’s Kickstarter campaign to build a cheese cave on her farm. Sue is a fixture at Headhouse Square Farmers’ Market and a wonderful hostess at Chester County Cheese Artisan events. When you visit her farm, you’ll meet her whole family (including some very friendly Holsteins), taste her raw-milk stinkers and blues, and enjoy a scenic drive through Chester County. This meal will feature the farm’s veal.

Tom Schaer in his kitchen at Meadowset Dairy

Tom Schaer in his kitchen at Meadowset Dairy

The cheese cave at Meadowset

The cheese cave at Meadowset

Note: This series is an extension of the monthly cheesemaker dinners hosted by High Street this spring. A big thanks to Eli Kulp and Ellen Yin for their support of local cheese. 




The Carrot Cake Cheese Ball

Great Balls of Cheese

Despite its humble past life as family-reunion food, The Cheese Ball seems to be making a meteoric comeback. And the person who is making yesterday’s party food today’s adorable centerpiece is Michelle Buffardi, author of Great Balls of CheeseIf you never envisioned yourself making an owl out of cream cheese and Ritz Bits or rolling pimento cheese in shredded cheddar to create a “cheese chick,” crawl under the couch now or reinvent yourself.

Great Balls of Cheese is the sort of book that is just kitschy and creative enough to make a person like me — someone who usually glides past the processed cheese on her way to the Winnimere — buy a 16 ounce tub of Philadelphia Cream Cheese last weekend. The occasion? My annual cherry blossom festival with the neighbors. Here in Fishtown (Philadelphia), we have one tree on our block and when it blooms (for all of 4 days), you better believe we clamor to our stoops to clink glasses.

Carrot cake cheese ball

Because I had, oh, exactly five hours to pull this year’s cherry blossom party together, glomping a few ingredients together for a cheese ball seemed like a quick way to lowbrow my way into a highly effective one-dish affair, a dish that could be eaten while juggling cocktail glasses, small children, and wild dogs. Yes, serving a cheese ball from your stoop on a busy street is much easier than presenting a multi-hunk cheese board with pairings.

The Inside-Out Carrot Cake Ball appealed to my perverse love of carrots and pineapple together. Graham crackers? Hellz, yeah! When do you get to serve graham crackers at grown-up affairs, unless you’re s’moring it up? The combination of creamy cheese, crunchy nuts, and chewy raisins hit all my sweet spots. The only thing I added to this kooky recipe was a little cinammon and nutmeg. If I made this again, I’d serve it with celery sticks for dipping. And I’d make a half batch. This makes a gargantuan orb.

Dera and Emily in the blossomsStoop Party


Inside-Out Carrot Cake Cheese Ball

Adapted from Great Balls of Cheeseby Michelle Buffardi

Serves 15-20

2 cups shredded carrots, squeezed of juice (use paper towels to squeeze)

1/4 cup crushed pineapple, drained well

16 ounces cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

1 tablespoon orange juice

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Dash of cinnamon and nutmeg (optional)

1 cup walnuts, toasted


Before you place the carrots and pineapple in a mixing bowl, make sure the are really are drained. I mean it. Otherwise, your cheese ball will be a little soupy (she says, from experience). Combine the carrots and pineapple with cream cheese, sugar, orange juice, and vanilla in a mixing bowl, along with spices, if desired.  Use a spatula to stir.

One the mixture is combined, wudge it into a ball and wrap it in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for two hours or overnight. Before serving, roll  your cheese ball in toasted walnuts. Serve with graham crackers, celery, and/or carrot sticks. The author also recommends vanilla wafers, too.

Dera and Cheese BallCherry Blossoms



Five Years of Madame Fromage

Flowers and Madame Fromage

Hard to believe: this month I am celebrating a big blog anniversary! And it’s made me a little nostalgic. I’ve spent the last few days sifting through old photos and trying to decide just what to post. My last half decade has been so memorable, full of so many friends and fromages that, well, even I feel a little speechless.

Five Years Ago…

I put up my first blog post on April 22, 2009 — the photo is so awful, I cringe. At the time, I thought it was just shy of magnificent. I had never taken a cheese photo before, and I borrowed my boyfriend’s camera for my first snap. It was my  first time using a digital camera. I didn’t own an iphone. I thought blogging was for sillies, but I wanted a place to organize my cheese notes.

First Madame Fromage Header

It was 2009 — the year of swine flu, the month Bea Arthur died — and I had just discovered La Tartine Gourmande, a blog so beautiful I gasped, then tossed all my old issues of Gourmet in recycling (sorry, Ruth Reichl). I spent an evening jotting down blog names and settled on “The Cheese Log,” then switched it at the last minute.

As I was putting out some cheese on a cutting board that night, I had a revelation: creating a cheese board was like setting a stage, and I loved the theatrical effects of adding pairings. In fact, cheese was milk in drag, I decided. And so Madame Fromage was born…

Four Years Ago…

Blind Tasters

The obsession was a tilt-a-whirl. I made all of my friends submit to blind tastings, and I read books about cheese every night in bed. Monsieur Fromage and I saw nothing but rinds in our dreams. At least once a week, I wore a trench coat and sunglasses into Di Bruno Bros. and lurked, taking notes.

Three Years Ago…

I made friends with some fabulous dames in my neighborhood who ran a little cheese shop, called Quince. Once a month, we began hosting tastings, exploring cheeses together, and inviting local cheesemakers to pop in. I began to discover wild cheeses in my own backyard — not something this Wisconsin grrrl expected to find in Pennsylvania.

Quince Collage

Quince closed this year, but I still have fond memories of working with owners Joan and Nicole. They gave me an excuse to print business cards and taught me the importance of trading knowledge.

Two Years Ago…

I hit my stride. A friend helped me redesign Madame Fromage, and I bought my first DSLR (and sort of figured out how to use it.) By this point, I was no longer hiding my eyes in Di Bruno Bros. In fact, I was blogging for their site. I’d pick a quiet morning each week to stop in sample a new cheese.

Cheese Ice Skaters

A photo of winter cheeses for the Di Bruno Bros. blog

One Year Ago…

A high point: hanging out at Anthropologie for a book signing with Emilio Mignucci. We signed 150 copies of The Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese that night.

Di Bruno Book at Anthropologie

The project brought together everything I love: words and dairy. From the beginning, I’ve always wanted this site to promote dairy literacy. I started off teaching myself a cheese lexicon, and I wanted to be able to turn around and share it.


I serve words. I serve cheese. These are the things I adore. To bring them together in this space makes me wildly happy. Occasionally, I wonder: what if I shut out the light? What if I stopped paying my web host? Would I still be me? What if I became Frau Tofu? Would I find a lively audience among the lactose free?

Surrounded by cheesemakers: Brent Zimmerman, Sue Miller, Kristian Holbrook

Surrounded by cheesemakers: Brent Zimmerman, Sue Miller, Kristian Holbrook

The truth is, I don’t think so. Cheese people are the nicest folks in the world. I really mean that. I have hung with wine people and beer people, with coffee people (oy, the angst!), and the charcuterie crowd. Cheese people are simply the nicest, humblest, dorkiest, most intelligent, kindest, hunkiest, most huggable, silliest, most wonderful, honest, generous, down-to-earth people on earth.

Once, I had a broken shower that leaked through my floor, and a cheese person offered to come to my house and fix it! Find me another busy workaday soul who would offer to do that.

It All Brings Me To This…

I feel very lucky to have you. Thanks for coming to this place. Thanks for reading. Thanks for nibbling and being curious. I don’t know how long you’ve been coming here or how many times you visited. Or what search words brought you. Never mind all that. Blogging has never been about numbers for me. Or trying to win awards or raise my Google rankings. It’s been about verbs. About writing, creating, noshing, honoring, sharing.

Thanks for giving me room to do this. Like a cheese, I need to breathe. And this is how I do it.

Munster Gerome in Our Notebooks


P.S. If there’s anything you’d like to see on this site — anything that would help you, serve you better, or bring you closer to what you want to be doing, please drop me a line. 


April Links: Cashew Cheese and Ghee Whiz


This week, I’ve been surveying the blogosphere through the eyes of my 20-something Food Writing students. For a bit of recent homework, I asked each one to review two food blogs of their choice (paying special attention to voice, photo-to-text ratio, and site design), then I spent an afternoon clicking around after them.

What a pleasure to follow their footsteps! It had been a while since I wandered amok online. Here’s what I found:

This Rawsome Vegan Life made me swoon over Raw Lasagna with Cashew Cheese. I’ve experimented with a few raw recipes over the years, including some surprisingly great raw Cheez-its. Cashew cheese and raw lasagna? Yes, please.

Desserts for Breakfast had me at Carrot Za’tar Muffins with Lavender Kumquat Compote. I can just imagine shmearing a little mascarpone on those muffins, yes indeedy! I love the idea of a “just barely sweet” muffin, and I really love a blog devoted entirely to morning people. (Not that I am one, but I strive.)

My New Roots taught me something about my favorite toast topper, ghee. I love ghee (clarified butter) almost as much as I love cheese — I keep it on the counter next to the stove and use it to stir-fry veggies and scramble eggs. Sarah Britton’s post on Ghee Whiz explains how ghee can be high in antioxidants, and there’s a good recipe for making delicious ghee from grass-fed butter.

Island Menu took me to Tasmania, where I peered thinly into the misty waters of the “Tassie” highlands via beautiful black-and-white photos by Samuel Shelley, then popped my eyes open when I scrolled down to this bright-o recipe for Scrambled Eggs with Gravlax. I hope this new site keeps growing — it’s so lovely and smart.


Oh yes, that gorgeous cheese up top? It’s Rag Thyme from Andante Dairy. I mentioned it in my last post but didn’t give much detail about this stunning California cheese that reminds me of rain and fresh herbs. A few weeks ago, Rag Thyme’s cheesemaker, Soyoung Scanlan, stopped in Philadelphia and I was thrilled to meet her. Wait ’til I show you the picture I snapped of her itsy bitsy hands.